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GRAFTON: Unmasking the failure of Theresa Tam

“So, no danger of COVID-19 spreading in March, to face masks not recommended in March, to face masks recommended in early April, to new face mask guidance in November (implying that face masks used to date were not effective).”

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On Nov. 3, ten months into the COVID-19 global pandemic, Liberal-appointed Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam announced new recommendations for non-medical masks.  

Tam said: “To improve the level of protection that can be provided by non-medical masks or face-coverings, we are recommending that you consider a three-layer non-medical mask which includes a middle filter-layer.”  

Referring to the Department of Health Canada website, masks should now be made of at least three layers. Two layers should be tightly woven material fabric, such as cotton or linen, and the third (middle) layer a filter-type fabric, such as non-woven polypropylene. Somewhat paradoxically, Health Canada also states that masks should “fit comfortably” and “allow for easy breathing”. 

Good luck with that.

Tam’s announcement is the latest in a series of conflicting and erroneous statements dating back to Jan. 7, when she announced; “There has been no evidence to date that this illness, whatever it’s caused by, is spread easily from person to person.” Obviously, this statement was incorrect, and the Liberals should have known that it was incorrect – because the WHO set up an Incident Management Support Team (IMST) on Jan. 1st, and the government had received intelligence warning of the dangers of COVID-19 in early January

We can only speculate as to why Tam made the statement, and why it wasn’t immediately corrected in order to warn Canadians. On Feb. 1st, as the U.S. and Australia closed their borders to travellers from China following declaration by the WHO that COVID-19 was a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)” – Trudeau chose inclusivity over public safety.

“There is no place in our country for discrimination driven by fear or misinformation. This is not something Canadians will ever stand for.”

In March, Tam made a public announcement that the evidence didn’t support wearing masks.

“What we worry about actually is the potential for…um…negative aspects of wearing masks, where people are not protecting their eyes, or…uh…you know, other aspects of where the virus could enter your…your…um…your body, and that gives you a false sense of confidence, but also it increases the touching of your face…”

Tam backtracked on this in early April, saying that face masks were now recommended.

“Wearing a non-medical mask, even if you have no symptoms, is an additional measure that you can take to protect others around you in situations where physical distancing is difficult to maintain, such as in public transit or maybe in the grocery store.” 

Tam attributed her reversal to “a review of evolving evidence”. 

Tam also backtracked on the benefit of travel restrictions.

So, no danger of COVID-19 spreading in March, to face masks not recommended in March, to face masks recommended in early April, to new face mask guidance in November (implying that face masks used to date were not effective).

In fact, there was lots of science available in January to show that cloth face masks were of limited value, and would not protect the public from airborne COVID-19 transmission.

A definitive 2015 study by the University of New South Wales found that filtration in cloth masks is extremely poor and may actually increase the likelihood of infection.

“Laboratory tests showed the penetration of particles through the cloth masks to be very high (97 per cent) compared with medical masks (44 per cent)…”

An earlier 2011 review by the UK Health Protection Agency of seventeen previous studies concluded, “None of the studies established a conclusive relationship between mask/respirator use and protection against influenza infection.”

This was reinforced in a study published in April by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine entitled “Rapid Expert Consultation on the Effectiveness of Fabric Masks for the COVID-19 Pandemic (April 8, 2020)” which concluded that, “The evidence from these laboratory filtration studies suggests that such fabric masks may reduce the transmission of larger respiratory droplets. There is little evidence regarding the transmission of small aerosolized particulates of the size potentially exhaled by asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals with COVID-19.”

Yet – with all this scientific evidence showing that cloth masks were ineffective, or actually increased the likelihood of infection – the Liberal government led Canadians to believe that non-medical cloth masks provided protection from COVID-19. 

While it is not possible to say how many of Canada’s 10,333 deaths could have been prevented by wearing effective masks, the implication of Tam’s latest recommendation is that some could have.

This represents an unconscionable failure by government to “enhance and protect the health of Canadians”.

Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister Hajdu and Dr. Tam should be held accountable.

Ken Grafton is freelance columnist for the Western Standard from Aylmer, Quebec.

Opinion

MORGAN: Kenney may have been politically incorrect, but he was right about infections in some communities

“Premier Kenney may have been somewhat insensitive in how he said it, but he didn’t say anything untrue when he spoke to the issue of the outbreak in the South Asian community.”

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney stepped in it. He dared to address the exploding infection rates of COVID-19 within Calgary’s South Asian community and of course, is now being called a racist, with demands for an apology. Caught between libertarian-minded Albertans resisting lockdowns and statists demanding ever-more paternalistic restrictions, the blows are coming at the premier from all sides.

Kenney’s opponents smell blood, and they would love nothing more than to try to tie Kenney’s policies to racism, as they try with anything mildly conservative. Unfortunately, this political reaction and opportunism may increase the infection risks in vulnerable communities as public figures fear to address them frankly.

We need to be blunt about the numbers. Infection rates in Calgary’s South Asian community are rising at triple the rate of other communities. Shouting down and deriding leaders for daring to address this issue as being racist is absurd, and damaging. How can we find out why the infection rates are rising so quickly in these communities, and how can we bring those rates in line if we can’t openly talk about it?

I spoke with Calgary cardiologist Dr. Anmol Kapoor about this sticky issue.

Dr. Kapoor created an initiative called “Dilwalk” which was modelled to bring awareness to some of the health consequences that can come with South Asian dining. While Indian food is indeed fantastic, like so many things it can be harmful for people if not consumed in moderation. With food being so tightly tied to our cultural fabrics, it takes an approach with sensitivity and understanding in order to communicate to the South Asian community on these concerns. Dr. Kapoor has worked hard to bridge that gap.

“Premier Kenney could have used different words.” said Dr. Kapoor, referring to the now-infamous radio interview. The South Asian community is proud, but can be sensitive. Things need to be presented in a “culturally appropriate” manner.

I asked Dr. Kapoor why case counts were so disproportionately high in Calgary’s Northeast district where a large portion of the city’s South Asian community live. He explained that there are a number of cultural factors at play.

Many people in the South Asian community live in multi-generational households for both cultural and economic reasons. Because of this, it can be difficult for any member of a family unit to isolate within their own household, even if they feel they may have been infected. It is difficult to find personal space and this makes family transmission difficult to avoid.

There is a language barrier for many new Canadians from the South Asian community. While Dr. Hinshaw has been communicating regularly and in detail on how we can work to get the pandemic under control, there is a lag in communications getting down to people who may need to get the messaging in a different language. More efforts should to be made to get resources to the community in different languages and in a timely manner. If it takes weeks for messaging to get out, the impact of the messaging is often lost.

Many people in the South Asian community work in jobs which can’t be done from home and often involve a lot of public interaction. This puts them at a higher risk of catching and transmitting the virus. Many people in these workplace situations either don’t have supports should they need to take time away from work, or don’t know what supports are available. People need to be reassured that they aren’t risking bankruptcy by self-isolating. It’s not so simple as closing the doors of your business or walking away from work for a couple weeks. Social supports are required and if they already exist, they need to be effectively communicated to people.

The common theme I heard was that communications need to be better and that they need to come from trusted sources. Community leaders should be tapped to help reach out to the impacted zones and get health messaging out there. Compliance with health measures and suggestions will be much higher when the suggestions come from familiar and trusted voices.

Dr. Kapoor expressly offered to take part in just such a role. If any UPC MLAs or AHS members are reading this, just reach out.

The pandemic is a nightmare for all of us in every possible way. It is a battle with multiple fronts which needs actions on the part of government which are clear and unhesitating. Clear communications are key and we can’t hesitate in targeting areas where outbreaks are occurring for fear of political backlash.

Premier Kenney may have been somewhat insensitive in how he said it, but he didn’t say anything untrue when he spoke to the issue of the outbreak in the South Asian community. If we want to knock this thing down, we need to be able to identify and target the hot spots. Along with the many other things the government needs to do, they need cultural ambassadors to help speak to impacted communities on their behalf. We can’t let political correctness put people at risk.

Cory Morgan is the Podcast Editor and a columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

GRAFTON: Another flighty Liberal bailout, as Trudeau prepares to spend non-existent COVID-19 bucks on failing airlines

Ken Grafton writes that Trudeau is planning a massive bailout of Air Canada, owned mostly by wealthy foreign trusts.

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In the words of Virgin Air founder Richard Branson, “If you want to be a millionaire, start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline.”

Now it seems, after months of being non-committal on the issue of airline bailouts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is about to charge up the Canadian Taxpayer Mastercard again – not a paltry Branson $1 billion though, but a whopping Liberal $7 billion, if carriers and unions have anything to say about it.

Branson was warning that airlines are expensive and often lose money – and Branson should know. Virgin Atlantic applied for bankruptcy protection in New York on August 4th. They are attempting to negotiate a $1.6 billion rescue plan. Virgin Australia also filed for bankruptcy earlier in the year. 

These are not the best of times. COVID-19 grounded most commercial flights globally in March, resulting in plummeting airline stock prices. Airlines have been losing millions of dollars every week, and billionaire “canary-in-the-mine” investor guru Warren Buffett has sold out his entire $4 billion airline portfolio. Buffett said, “Investors have poured their money into airlines … for 100 years with terrible results. … It’s been a death trap for investors.”

Airline failures however, predate COVID-19. Airline bankruptcies since 1980 include TWA, US Airways, United, Air Canada (in 2003), Delta, American and many others.

The airline business model is problematic in a number of respects. First and foremost, it lacks scalability. This means that cost growth increases linearly with revenue growth, thereby making it very expensive for an airline to grow. A new A380 will set you back approximately $437 million USD. It costs about $83,000 for a fill-up at the pump, and a new set of 22 tires is a jaw-dropping $121,000

As Buffett explained to Berkshire shareholders in 2007, “The worst sort of business is one that grows rapidly, requires significant capital to engender the growth, and then earns little or no money. Think airlines. Here a durable competitive advantage has proven elusive ever since the days of the Wright Brothers. Indeed, if a farsighted capitalist had been present at Kitty Hawk, he would have done his successors a huge favor by shooting Orville down.” 

But, as history records, Orville made a safe landing that day in 1903.

Another problem with airlines is a sensitive dependence upon price competition. The reality is that if one airline decides to cut fares, for whatever reason(s), competitors have little choice but to follow. This can have disastrous impact financially.

Air Canada is Canada’s largest carrier. Privatized in 1989, its’ history includes layoffs, restructuring, mergers, previous bankruptcy and government bailouts. In May, Air Canada threatened to lay off 50-60 per cent of it’s 38,000 employees, saying that it is losing $20 million per day as a result of COVID-19. It is projecting a 75 per cent reduction in flight capacity during Q4 compared to 2019, and reported Q3 revenue of C$757 million, down 86 per cent from a year earlier, with an operating loss of $785 million CAD.

It has since been taking advantage of the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program.

Now, as a result of COVID-19, Air Canada wants another bailout from the taxpayer.

Transportation Minister Marc Garneau said, “To protect Canadians, the Government of Canada is developing a package of assistance to Canadian airlines, airports and the aerospace sector. As part of this package, we are ready to establish a process with major airlines regarding financial assistance which could include loans and potentially other support to secure important results for Canadians.”

But who exactly are taxpayers going to be bailing out?

The top 10 Air Canada shareholders are all investment management funds. Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc., Fidelity (Canada) Asset Management ULC, Fidelity Management & Research Co. LLC, EdgePoint Investment Group Inc., US Global Investors Inc., RBC Global Asset Management Inc., Causeway Capital Management LLC, Mackenzie Financial Corp., APG Asset Management NV, and CI Investments, Inc.. 

The irony of Canadian taxpayers ponying up $7 billion to bailout wealthy global investment funds would be amusing if it weren’t true. 

Perhaps Trudeau will broker a loan from Air Canada’s shareholders. They can afford it.

The likelihood of you getting an operating line of credit from your local bank because you had lost 90 per cent of your income and were billions in the red? Zero to none.

According to Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc the government is “very much discussing” the possibility of nationalizing the airlines, as Germany has done.

If the argument for deregulation and privatization is increased efficiency and cost benefit, then it follows that private sector enterprise must be prepared to bear the cost of failure. Trudeau is burdening Canadians with crippling debt as a result of COVID-19. The wealthy investment funds that own Air Canada should be prepared to do the same.

Ken Grafton is freelance columnist for the Western Standard from Aylmer, Quebec

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Opinion

McCOLL: The Cowtown Kremlin moves to stop Farkas

McColl writes that the Calgary City Council’s proposed rule against Farkas campaigning is better suited to Russia than to Alberta.

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Normally, one must go to Russia to find this kind of candidate suppression. This week, Calgary City Hall earned its nickname: the Cowtown Kremlin.

As reported by the Western Standard’s Dave Naylor, council will debate a motion that could require sitting councillors to seek permission from other councillors in order to attend or host events in each other’s wards, something that any candidate running for mayor would obviously need to do. This was rightly highlighted as a deliberate attempt to hinder Councillor Farkas’ ongoing mayoral campaign to replace Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Mayor Nenshi by contrast, would not face any similar restrictions should he run for re-election.

Councillor Farkas’ himself raised this issue at committee on Tuesday.

“This policy unfairly targets sitting Councillors running for mayor. It also unfairly targets civil debate, as well as the rights of private individuals to associate with others… Running for mayor necessitates a city-wide campaign where each of these events could be outside your ward. Keeping each Councillor apprised of a busy, everchanging campaign schedule is unreasonable and it’s ultimately unnecessary to prevent citizens from being confused about who represents them.”

The council committee voted 6-4 against the motion, but it will still go before the full city council on December 14.

Similar rules were passed in 2016 for the 2017 election. In an interview with the Western Standard, Councillor Farkas argued against the 2017 policy. “Council clearly overstepped their bounds in 2017, It’s good that they’ll likely not repeat the same mistake for this election.”

It’s worth noting that the 2017 rules were temporary guidelines specific to the period of ward redistricting, as explained in council on September 26, 2016 by then Ethics Advisor Professor Alice Woolley.

“This speaks to a councillor in a community that they do not currently represent, but that they will be seaking to represent in the next election and it says that particular activity is treated as campaigning. And the reason for that is because of the particular dangers and concerns that exist as a result of ward boundary changes.”

Professor Woolley clarified repeatedly, “This is not a policy, this is not a rule, this is simply a guideline for what I would consider good practice” calling it a “playbook for civil relations at a time of difficulty” and emphasizing: “At this point in time while the ward boundaries are in flux, I don’t think this rule would be appropriate in the same way after that time.”

Flash back to the present and current Ethics Advisor Professor Emily Laidlaw told Councillor Farkas that yes, a councillor could deny permission to attend a private function in an outside ward, but that she can’t see why that would happen if a person’s been invited.

Call me a jaded political junky, but I can imagine plenty of private events – hosted by federal or provincial Conservatives – within constituencies that overlap with wards of left-wing city councillors. Councillor Farkas is a former President of the Calgary-Elbow Wildrose Constituency Association and was a leader in the early days of merging the Alberta PC and Wildrose parties into the current governing United Conservatives. Should Councillor Evan Wooley have the power to block Farkas from attending a private event hosted by conservatives in Calgary-Elbow, or Jeff Davison block him from events in Western Calgary?

Trying to turn a temporary ethics guideline designed for ward redistricting into a rule to censor Farkas’ mayoral campaign is plainly undemocratic. Reviving it as a simple guideline opens the door for future meritless ethics complaints. Neither should be acceptable in a democracy.

Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist with the Western Standard and a Canadian military analyst

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